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    The United States and Lithuania denied reports they were formally discussing deploying elements of the U.S. missile shield in the ex-Soviet Baltic state if talks with Poland failed.

    WASHINGTON/VILNIUS, June 18 (RIA Novosti) - The United States and Lithuania denied reports they were formally discussing deploying elements of the U.S. missile shield in the ex-Soviet Baltic state if talks with Poland failed.

    Poland's deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator said on Tuesday Washington and Vilnius were holding missile defense talks. "Lithuania's defense minister proposed it himself in May and the Polish side knows it," Witold Waszczykowski said.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on Tuesday it was "an overstatement of any conversations we might have had with the government of Lithuania."

    "We are continuing our discussions with the Poles. We think we're very close to an agreement. And we do expect it will work out, so I don't think there's going to be a need for any alternatives," he said.

    U.S. chief missile shield negotiator John Rood was in Lithuania in May, but "he largely briefed them on the status of the discussions in Poland," Casey said.

    Lithuania's Foreign Ministry said the country "is not holding any talks on the deployment of a part of the missile defense shield on its territory."

    Ministry spokesperson Violeta Gaizauskaite said Vilnius backs the possible installation of the defenses in neighboring Poland.

    Poland has taken a tough stance in the missile talks with the U.S. demanding it upgrade its air defense systems as a condition for agreeing to station 10 interceptor missiles on its territory.

    Washington says missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic are needed as protection from possible attacks by "rogue" states. Russia opposes the plans as a threat to its security and the nuclear deterrence system. Moscow threatened to retarget missiles on Poland if the U.S. went ahead with its plans to open a base there.

    President George W. Bush wants a deal to be finalized before his term expires in January. The Czech Republic's government gave its formal consent in May, but the agreement needs to be ratified by parliament.

    Public opinion in the two former Soviet-bloc countries is largely against the proposed deployment.

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